I first noticed Russell Crowe in the trailer for Virtuosity in early 1995, and was intrigued enough to remember him, though I never saw the movie in theatres (and thank heavens for that!). With the pre-Oscars re-release of L.A. Confidential, I really sat up and took notice. I was fascinated by the conviction, completely free of sentimentality or melodrama, that he brought to the role, while precisely and sensitively responding to the other actors in the consummate ensemble movie. Working my way through his films, I found that he consistently projects power and presence without grand-standing or overwhelming his co-stars, and that he is committed to trying new things and fully inhabiting each new role in what I would describe as a more emotional vs. psychological Method style. In his best roles, he is subtle, yet viscerally believable in a way that I find tremendously rewarding.
A note on my notes: I've avoided complicating things with a number or star scale. My "Good" and "Not So Good" ratings simply indicate whether I recommend a film or not, based on my individual tastes in acting, direction, cinematography, etc. My notes explain why. These evaluations are not set in stone. I may change my mind about some of them. But this is what I think as of now.
Because I haven't seen them yet, the following movies aren't on this page:
The c. 1910 coming-of-age story of a crippled Australian boy (based on the young Alan Marshall) who idolizes a local horse-breeder. Through the eyes of a budding writer we see the social divide between classes, the inevitability of disease and death, and the terrible effect of events on the idealistic spirit, while always remaining aware of the importance of humane conduct and the ability to laugh. Crowe is charismatic as the physically assured but intellectually insecure East, and Charlotte Rampling is wonderful as his love interest, the upper class and unfortunately married Grace McAlister.
A distrustful blind man, his manipulative housekeeper and a well-meaning dishwasher at a local restaurant are caught in a love triangle that tests them all. Crowe provides gravity (the director of Romper Stomper called him "the most menacing dishwasher I'd ever seen") in a generally sympathetic role while the dysfunctional relationship of Hugo Weaving and Genevieve Picot throws off considerable sparks. Cleverly structured, brilliantly written, funny and poignant, this movie is a true original.
A widower and his gay son share a house and one another's confidences as each pursues his love life. Though its humor, which at times verges on the trite, can make this movie seem like a comedy, it has a serious side that I found very moving.
Three very different police officers investigate a mass shooting in Los Angeles during the early 1950s. The plot of this film (which is condensed from the novel by James Ellroy) is so complex that it is nearly impossible to understand on a first viewing, but with persistence it does make sense. The mob, the business and entertainment worlds, the city government and the LAPD are all implicated in an exploration of the corrupt underpinnings of Los Angeles society in the 1950s that somehow avoids being cynical and hopeless. The credit should be given to the truly amazing ensemble cast, including Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, James Cromwell, David Strathairn and Danny DeVito, all of whom turn in some of their best work. Best of all is Russell Crowe, whose brutal yet sympathetic Bud White is his most masterfully realized role. L.A. Confidential made me a Russell Crowe fan, and it remains my favorite of his movies.
Two hapless characters meet during a bank robbery, end up on the run together, and fall in love. Meanwhile, some very angry people are looking for them. This movie is really a mess, but there is something about its exuberant slapping together of genre elements that I find entertaining (as long as I ignore the annoying ending).
A former tobacco company executive is courted by a producer of the television show 60 Minutes, who wants him to go on record with his knowledge of the company's deceit. Crowe's performance (which earned him his first Academy Award nomination) is so compressed and internal that I found that his story was overshadowed by the goings on at CBS, which are pungently authentic and gripping. Christopher Plummer is marvelous as Mike Wallace, though the real Mike Wallace complained heartily.
An honorable general is unwillingly embroiled in a conflict over succession in the Roman Empire of 180 AD and is enslaved, only to emerge as a gladiatorial superstar. Though the script of this movie leaves much to be desired and Crowe's character wasn't given much to do, the scale and energy of the early battle scenes and the later gladiatorial combats is awe-inspiring. Joaquin Phoenix, as the febrile Commodus, and Connie Nielsen as his worried sister Lucilla are both effective in their roles.
Proof of Life
The abduction of an oil company executive leads to the assignment of a "kidnap and ransom" negotiator to the fictional South American country of Tecala, where he works closely with the kidnap victim's wife to achieve the release of her husband. Neither a full-bore thriller nor a developed romantic story, this is nevertheless a consistent and worthwhile drama. The widely criticized casting of Meg Ryan worked fine for me. And Crowe, who bulked up for his role in Gladiator, has swelled to hulk size!
A Beautiful Mind
The loosely biographical story of a schizophrenic man who won the Nobel Prize in Economics forty years after his relevant work in game theory. I was irked by this movie's sentimental additions to Nash's personal history, because the result is a much less interesting story than it should be. However, the device used to immerse the audience in Nash's schizophrenic delusions is very clever and Crowe turns in his best performance in years, by turns subtle and direct, and very sharply observed.
A group of skinheads in Melbourne falls to pieces. This film is quite similar to A Clockwork Orange in some ways, but unlike A Clockwork Orange it gives no hint of how these nasty folks got to be the way they are, and thus seems rather pointless. Russell Crowe, as the neo-Nazi leader, oozes menacing presence, so the movie has something going for it.
The Silver Stallion:
King of the Wild Brumbies
A ridiculously anthropomorphic tale of wild horses in Australia. Crowe plays a one-note villain who wants to capture the stallion of the title and is foiled by the animal's smarts. Fairy tales should be filmed as such, not as nature films, as this one is.
For the Moment
An Australian airman stops off at a training camp in Canada before heading out to duty during World War II. This movie has its heart in the right place, but its impact is severely blunted by a "made for TV" feel and some unconvincing characterization.
The Quick and
A sadistic overlord stages a gunslinging contest in an Old West town, attracting the attention of the murdered sheriff's daughter, who is bent on revenge. This is one of Crowe's most put-upon roles. For most of the movie he is kept in chains in the middle of Main Street, thirsty, hungry and alternately broiled by the sun or drenched by improbable rainstorms. There is humor in the movie's over-the-top elements, but it's not compelling enough to make up for the overall lack of originality. Then again, I've never seen the love scene between Crowe and Sharon Stone, which was edited out for the American release...
A virtual reality amalgam of the personalities of famous killers is given physical form and goes on a spree of violence. Cliché-ridden nonsense!
A shell-shocked veteran of WW II is hired to find and return the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. It is hard to express what a god-awful mess this movie is. At various times an absurdist comedy, a period detective noir, and a magical realist journey, it utterly fails to cohere and is occasionally so painful that I wanted to look away from the screen. Crowe's character is sympathetic, but handicapped by a sloppy attempt at a New York City accent.
The death throes of a passionate, but hopeless relationship. Much of this movie is played as an ironic comedy, which is unfortunate, because it is obvious this isn't Crowe's element. To make matters worse, the NYC accent is back.
A small-town hockey team competes against the New York Rangers in a televised event. The ensemble cast of this film attempts a good-natured portrayal of small-town life à la Northern Exposure, with some success, but not enough. Crowe is unfocused and seemingly depressed for much of the movie.
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